Oh, Danny boy: McColgan determined to carve out career
His parents are the multi-millionaire producers of 'Riverdance', but Danny McColgan insists that he won't rely on good old-fashioned nepotism to carve out his career as an actor. Stephen Milton can't help but believe him
Growing up, the family business held little interest for young Danny McColgan. It rated ever so lowly on the 'cool scale'.
"I didn't want anything to do with it," he says. "To me, [it] wasn't very cool so my parents weren't very cool. They were just annoying to me.
"But now I think that it would be great to have a bit of Irish dancing under my belt.
"Obviously not to do the show but to have that skill and knowledge would be nice. It's funny though, how you think so differently when you're younger, when you're only concerned by your mates and school and your own world. Your parents' world, who cares about that?
"I couldn't have cared less about 'Riverdance'."
He sniggers quietly and pauses for a moment.
"To be fair, I was a bit of a little bollocks back then."
'Weekend' half expects Danny to clam up at the mention of his folks, production powerhouse Moya Doherty and John McColgan, amidst growling assertions of detachment, disinterest and individuality.
He certainly wouldn't be the first.
But as his star begins to ascend, the young actor seems to have bypassed that charming rite of passage.
Danny, 22, will soon hit big screens in Jimi Hendrix biopic 'All Is By My side', alongside a starry ensemble cast including Hayley Atwell, Imogen Poots, Ruth Negga and Outkast singer Andre Benjamin as the legendary rock god.
McColgan fought off stiff competition from hundreds of actors to play Hendrix's confidante and friend Eric Clapton.
He likens it to "luck" and physiological disposition.
"I think it was pure luck that they were filming in Ireland as I'm not sure I would've got a look in.
"And it was a lot to do with my general appearance. I'm skinny; I don't work out. I have that malnourished body I suppose, conducive to a 1960s rockstar.
"When I met Andre [Benjamin] for the first time, he stepped back, looked at me, and said, 'Yeah, I see it, I really see it'."
Initial reviews from last year's Toronto Film Festival suggests a pacey, enticing, heady period piece set during Hendrix's early years in London in the mid 1960s, right before the release of his debut, 'Are You Experienced?'
Though a small role, the actor absolutely nails Clapton. It's a significant breakthrough for the Dubliner.
"I'm just looking forward for it to come out so I can reap the benefits, so to speak."
McColgan is the youngest of Moya and John's two sons.
His older brother, Mark, 25, is an illustrator. He also has an elder brother and sister, Justin and Lucy, from his father's 10-year marriage to barrister Virginia Cole.
Danny attended Sutton Park School but says he was never academically driven. After his brother transferred to boarding school in Boston, Danny was given the opportunity to do the same right before entering his Junior Cert year.
He shrewdly moved over to Millbrook, a boarding prep school in upstate New York before returning to Dublin a year later for the transition year.
"I call it tactical mitching," he laughs.
The self-proclaimed goofy geek then moved on to Leeson Street's Institute of Education before deciding to drop out to pursue acting. Moya and John were far from pleased.
"They really tried to talk me out of it. They said, 'just do your Leaving Cert and then go do whatever you want'. But in the end they were exasperated."
He still lives in the family home in Howth, and works for the family empire, Tyrone Productions, doing filing and administrating - though auditioning remains his top priority.
Eschewing the soaring Dublin rents helps to fund his other passion project - his 'Big Bastard' comic book series, which he creates, publishes and distributes with filmmaker friend Neil O'Driscoll. Every cent earned is pumped into this venture, despite his parents' offer to bankroll it.
"They wanted to invest in it and get people on board to market and organise it. I wanted to do it myself. Like with acting, I want to do everything myself."
Lanky and charming with soft brown eyes, Danny has placed himself in a compromising position with his choice of profession.
His folks own the biggest production company in the land, pumping out a slate of dramas since its inception in the mid-1980s - Gabriel Byrne's 'Quirke'; Michael Gambon's 'Endgame'; several international stage runs of Marie Jones' 'Stones in Your Pockets'.
They boast the necessary contacts to promote his career. The nepotism naysayers are clearing their throats.
"Yes, they've let me know of auditions, but they're only auditions. I have to get the parts. That's as far as it goes. And I would never tell anyone who my folks are; I would never flaunt it. I've always kept it on the down low.
"People can say whatever the f**k they want, they're going to anyway. It'll probably sting a little. I'm not made of steel. "I love my parents and I'm so thankful for everything they've done for me. They're amazing, hardworking people but anything I do, I want to do myself. I don't want to use their name and just waltz in on something because of them. It wouldn't be right."
When 'Riverdance' debuted as the interval act for the 1994 Eurovision, Danny was barely three years old. He remembers nothing before then. "There was no life for me before 'Riverdance'. It was ever present. But we were never really part of it.
"I have vague memories more so of Jean Butler, than Michael Flatley, being around the house, or being backstage with them.
"We weren't that involved: we didn't go backstage and meet all the dancers. Why would we? Again, that was their work. 'Riverdance' was a big deal to so many people but not to me."
There was still the advantage of circulating in fancy circles - even if the young boys didn't fully appreciate it then.
"I have vague recollections of putting on little tuxedos and meeting Liam Neeson at the 'Phantom Menace' premiere. My parents knew him very well as he did the voiceover for 'Riverdance', and he had these gifts for me and my brother.
"He handed Mark a lightsaber from the actual film and my eyes were on stalks. 'Oh my God', I thought, 'this is the greatest day ever'. And then he hands me a doll of himself as Qui-Gon Jinn, and I had the rage burning inside me. I held it against Liam Neeson for years. I wanted a lightsaber too," he chuckles. "God, I was a little bollocks."
As one of the richest partnerships in the country, the McColgan/Doherty fortune was once estimated somewhere between €80m to €100m, boasting lavish homes in the South of France and Martha's Vineyard, as well as their Howth mansion.
However, Danny has always been careful to consider it 'their' money, as opposed to 'ours'.
"They weren't stingy in any way," he says. "When I was very young, toys were all I cared about. But we weren't spoiled. Well maybe I was up till about six but they curbed that.
"And since I've left school, I've tried to avoid spending their money as much as I can. I don't feel comfortable spending their money when they've done so much for me already.
"Yes, I'm living in their house right now and it's a lovely house. But I want to start giving back to them when I can. That's a big driving force within."
Direct and amiably ambitious with a lovely blend of humour, McColgan will soon make ripples. He looks to Cillian Murphy as his professional inspiration.
Next month, he hopes to start on Irish psychological thriller 'Waking the Witch' before the release of 'All Is By My Side' a few weeks later.
His commitments to 'Big Bastard' will keep him in Dublin for the next year but the actor is looking towards a move. London perhaps. Or LA.
There are no ties really, except one. Princess Penelope. His pet chameleon. He's concerned what will happen to their relationship if he has to leave the country for work.
"I think it's something I'll have to do for more opportunities. I want to stay in Dublin while I'm still working on the comic. I want to get five issues out and we're still only on the third.
"But after that, I don't have any ties really, no girlfriend. Princess Penelope would be my only concern, I'm not sure how that would work.
"Guess we'll have to cross that bridge when we come to it."
'All Is By My Side' is out in October
picture: mark nixon
Picture: Vip Ireland